Monday, July 31, 2017

New Edition of Stones' 'Satanic Majesties' Coming Soon

With critical opinion of The Rolling Stones' most controversial disc swaying toward the positive in recent years, and this year marking its fiftieth anniversary, the time is right for a deluxe edition of Their Satanic Majesties Request (aka: Psychobabble's favorite Stones album). On September 22, Universal Music will issue a double-SACD/double-vinyl set dedicated to the Stones' alluring descent into psychedelia. Unfortunately, the wealth of outtakes and sessions available on bootlegs such as Cosmic Christmas and Satanic Sessions, or even the complimentary "We Love You" b/w"Dandelion" single, won't be part of a package that only consists of the album's already-available stereo and mono mixes. However, it is being newly remastered, though there's no word yet about whether or not it will be an exclusively analog process, just that Bob Ludwig is doing the work at Gateway Mastering and Sean Magee is cutting the lacquer at Abbey Road , according to Super Deluxe

The packaging seems like it will be a step up after the treatment Satanic received in last year's Rolling Stones in Mono box set. While that set included a bad, digitized image with the 2-D photo of the band blown up to weirdly large proportions, this new edition will revive the original lenticular cover for the first time in 50 years (Super Deluxe Edition mistakenly reports that the lenticular cover was used on the 2002 SACD, but that cover was just holographic, not lenticular). There will also be a 20-page booklet with period photos and essays.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Review: 'Pop Sixties: Shindig!, Dick Clark, Beach Party, and Photographs from the Donna Loren Archives'

Donna Loren’s resume isn’t super substantial but it does swing. She was a regular on Shindig!, did guest appearances on the sixties’ too coolest series—Batman and The Monkees—, sang fun surf pop tunes, shimmied in goofy beach flicks, and shilled for delicious Dr. Pepper. Her new book Pop Sixties: Shindig!, Dick Clark, Beach Party, and Photographs from the Donna Loren Archives is similarly slight and groovy. She contributes some quotations and photo captions, but her biggest text load is a skimpy eight-page memoir. However, it is a juicy one as she explains how her parents essentially forced her into show business, forced her to get a nose job to look less “ethnic” (ugh), and wouldn’t allow her out of the house without makeup. Loren discusses such semi-dark material with the kind of cheerful you’d expect from a Pepper, though she clearly realizes her upbringing was messed up. She did make the most of it though, and the proof of that is in an abundance of fab B&W and color photos that find her rubbing elbows with The Supremes, Teri Garr, Davy Jones, Adam West, Burt Ward, The Dixie Cups, Brenda Holloway, La La Brooks, Dick Dale, Tina Turner, The Righteous Brothers, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and a bunch of other people cooler than anyone you or I will ever meet. Loren is groovy and photogenic enough on her own to carry the book when she isn’t flanked by her fellow pop stars. I can’t say this skinny 148-page volume exactly justifies its heavy $34.95 cover price, especially since both her Batman and Monkees stints are represented by mere two-page spreads, but it’s definitely fun to flip through. Bobby Sherman contributes the foreword and ace Sunset Strip historian Domenic Priore assists with the history and captions.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Farewell, June Foray

Without her Talky Tina wouldn't have talked. Neither would hundreds of other characters, because June Foray was one of the busiest voice actors in the business. She is best known as the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, who always served as a sensible counterpart to the flightier Bullwinkle's. More befitting Psychobabble's creepier sensibilities, Foray gave voice to the hair-pin shedding  Looney Tune Witch Hazel and the most terrifying killer hunk of plastic in the Twilight Zone, Talky Tina (based on her own recordings for the Chatty Cathy doll).

Foray was kept busiest putting words in the mouths of Bullwinkle's nemesis Natasha Fatale, Tweety's Granny, Cindy Lou Who, Raggedy Ann, numerous Smurfs,  and other cartoon creations, but she also dubbed live actors on occasion, including the little girl in the "Bewitchin' Pool" episode of The Twilight Zone, and fascinatingly enough, both of Chief Brody's kids in Jaws. She even made a handful of onscreen appearances in shows such as Bewitched, Green Acres, and Get Smart, but she'll always be best remembered for the sounds she made over her rich, 71-year career. June Foray died yesterday at the age of 99.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Review: 'Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics'

In a time when fine artists were more likely to thumb their noses at comics than take jobs drawing them, Reed Crandall was happy to get the work. The fine sense of form and movement that informed his elegant and eclectic paintings, sculptures, and illustrations served him well when drafting Captain America, Blackhawk, and Doll Man to make ends meet. While his early work was usually anonymous, he began to make a name for himself when he started receiving his due credit while working for E.C. Comics, depicting some of the company’s most memorable crypt tales, such as “Carrion Death” and “Only Skin Deep”.

Reed Crandall’s art was exceptional, but based on Roger Hill’s new illustrated biography Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics, the man may have been a bit of a blank slate. Hill describes the varied beats of Crandall’s history, but only the most essential ones of the man’s life get a mention, and Crandall’s personality remains frustratingly aloof. On occasion, a friend or acquaintance briefly describes Crandall as nice, humble, and a bit insecure about his work while dwelling on his art in far greater detail. The fixation on his work implies there wasn’t much to the man when he wasn’t at the drafting table. That could have been the case, but I doubt most people can be reduced so glibly. This also leaves Hill’s text a bit lacking in substance since so much of it is spent synopsizing plots of comics Crandall illustrated or describing Crandall’s artwork (textually, the book is more satisfying as a history of the early comics industry than a biography). The copious color and B&W illustrations included in this volume—which includes both Crandall’s comics work and his fine arts work— speak much louder about the artist’s talent. A flawless counterfeit of a King of Hearts card will make you gasp when you realize Crandall created it when he was only ten years old. That the man was such a master of his medium may overshadow his inner self in Reed Crandall: Illustrator of the Comics, but his mastery also makes the book a constant marvel to gaze at.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: 'It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection'

In an age when lazily staged poses and perfunctorily photo-shopped images are regularly used to promote major motion pictures, it is halting to revisit the art once used to sell movies regarded as junk for the matinee crowd. Even films as chintzy as The Angry Red Planet and The Crawling Eye were hawked with striking graphics and paintings. Artworks for more prestigious pictures, such as Lionel Reiss’s bold art deco piece advertising The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and an uncredited work for The Invisible Man so haunting and striking and innately nightmarish that text was barely deemed necessary, are—no exaggeration— museum quality.

Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett has long recognized the artfulness, power, and fun of classic horror and sci-fi movie posters, amassing an impressive collection being exhibited in a show called It’s Alive! Classic Horror and Sci-Fi Movie Posters from the Kirk Hammett Collection at the Peabody Essex Museum in (appropriately enough) Salem, Massachusetts, and in a tie-in book of the same name.

The book combines oddities such as the aforementioned Caligari poster, Roland Coudon’s funeral procession tableaux for Frankenstein, and a Karoly Grosz Mummy poster that spotlights the film’s human cast members with a lot of more common promos for pictures such as Dracula’s Daughter, Barbarella, Mystery of the Wax Museum, and Island of Lost Souls. Hammett favors pre-sixties posters, though there is a scattering of later day ones for movies such as Alien, Rosemary’s Baby, Blacula, and of course, It’s Alive. It’s an impressive collection.

It’s Alive! also features a few interesting essays on the history and craft of horror promo posters, the fear reaction as explained through neuroscience and psychology, and Hammett’s own relationship with horror films and their adverts. Hammett is only quoted in that latter essay, so he generally allows his artworks to assume the starring role in this book. However, a shot of him grinning like a kid surrounded by his collection of other creepy toys, records, magazines, comics, models, and props really makes me wish this book had expanded its scope more beyond often familiar poster artwork to encompass the complete Kirk Hammett Horror Collection.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Farewell, George Romero

Without him, zombies would still be toiling on sugar plantations instead of swarming urban areas. George A. Romero reinvented the zombie in 1968 with Night of the Living Dead even though the "Z" world is never even whispered in its taut 96 minutes. Romero followed up on his pioneering big-screen-E.C. comic with such sequels as Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead, solidifying his legacy as King of the Zombies, but his achievements hardly end with droves of flesh-eating undead. Romero also made vampires human and sympathetic with Martin, horror comics move and breathe with Creepshow, and killer monkeys campy fun with Monkey Shines. He was also the producer of the classic small-screen anthology series Tales from the Darkside and a charming, politically-sharp presence in such documentaries as Midnight Movies. Having died of lung cancer at the age of 77, George Romero's charming personality will be missed but his nerve-wracking film work--much like his favorite monsters-- won't stay dead.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review: 'Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis'

With a title and cover focusing on objects and a publisher specializing in photo books, Glitterati’s Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis seems like it should be an eye-bursting collection of images of Elvis’s glitziest and gaudiest costumes and knick-knacks. There is some of that stuff with shots of Graceland’s outrageous interior and the King’s capes and jumpsuits, but the real purpose of this book is to share anecdotes from and images of people who knew Elvis both intimately and fleetingly.

A good deal of the stories are pretty superficial and tend to accentuate the positive. We get that Elvis was very generous, very down-to-earth despite the spangles and wall of TVs, and had a quirky penchant for roller-skating and practical jokes.  Only a scattering of anecdotes reveal more about the man beneath the pompadour, but these can be pretty revealing indeed. Ex-girlfriend Anita Wood remembers how Elvis’s mother’s casket had to be covered in glass “so Elvis wouldn’t be touching her all the time” and discussed his mother’s corpse in baby talk (“look at her little footies”), giving us a glimpse of a creepy side most other commentators avoid. Elvis’s personal stylist Larry Gellar tells an equally intimate though more touching tale about Elvis’s thirst for someone with whom to discuss his spirituality, his complex feelings over his twin brother’s death at birth, and his impoverished beginnings. This phase of Elvis’s life is also documented with stark images of his boyhood home. The decision to include the infamous Dr. Nick, who kept Elvis’s medicine cabinet a bit too well stocked and contributes an innocuous anecdote, might not have been the most well-considered one. Neither was the decision to end the book with a story that ends with Elvis apparently making some sort of racist joke.

But again, the main photographic focus is the faces of all the people who share their stories, and Thom Gilbert shoots this cast of characters in intense close ups. Because these people are in the later stages of their lives, and Gilbert makes no attempt to airbrush away the lines and white hairs (though Kim Novak, who contributes the foreword, is represented by a Vertigo-era head shot), his photos seem to tell their own tales of long-lived lives. The almost exaggerated smiles on a lot of these faces imply they’ve been happy ones, perhaps partially because they’d been touched by Elvis. Yet because Gilbert is more concerned with faces that do not belong to Elvis than memorabilia, I’m not sure how appealing the photographic aspect of this book will be to fans. Appreciators of bold portraiture may be the real audience for Blue Suede Shoes: The Culture of Elvis.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: 'The Monster Movies of Universal Studios'

When I was a Monster Kid, there was nothing I liked to check out from the school library better than books about classic horror movies. They gave you the basic rundown of what made flicks like Dracula and The Wolf Man so boss and delivered plenty of B&W photos to back it up. Today, works such as Gary D. Rhodes’s Tod Browning’s Dracula and David J. Skal’s The Monster Show take a more scholarly and/or critical look at the classics. The Monster Movies of Universal Studios falls somewhere between the kids and film criticism library shelves.

Author James L. Neibaur zips though the 29 movies he covers too swiftly for the book to qualify as scholarship, and his writing is simple enough for any Monster Kid to grasp (Neibaur is an Encyclopedia Britannica contributor, and his affectless writing would not be out of place in an encyclopedia), but he does make room in each roughly 5-to-10 page chapter to get into a bit of plot synopsis, a bit of criticism, and a bit of background history. For those of us who’ve consumed what’s already out there, chapters on well-examined films such as Dracula and The Wolf Man are redundant, but ones on items such as The Invisible Woman and The Mummy’s Tomb are fresher—if not exactly revelatory— and more likely to stimulate Neibaur’s critical side. That latter observation is not a sly criticism of Neibaur, since the Monster Kid in me appreciates his unabashed love of Dracula, a delightful film too often run down in contemporary criticism, and since analysis is not the author’s primary goal.

Neibaur limits his discussions to films that deal with the big six monsters of Universal (or Universale, as he repeatedly spells it for some reason) —Dracula, the Frankenstein Monster, The Wolf Man, The Mummy, The Invisible Man, and The Creature—which means that both Chaney and Rains’s Phantoms and Abbott & Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde get left out of the chat, as do non-Monster horrors such as The Black Cat and The Old Dark House. So The Monster Movies of Universal Studios isn’t exactly the definitive book on the topic, but I bet some modern-day Monster Kids might still enjoy checking it out of their own school libraries.
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